SEO: Avoiding A Lonely Death On The 37th Page Of Google Search Results

Corporate communicators and nonprofit and agency execs are quick to talk about how to get the most out of digital channels, be they blogs, social networks or video-sharing platforms, but many still flounder when it comes to the crux of what makes these vehicles effective in the first place: search engine optimization (SEO). After all, it doesn't matter how catchy your press release is or how well designed your corporate Web site happens to be if it doesn't pop up on the first page of search results. "Think of [the Internet] as a sea where everyone is sending up smoke signals to find each other," says Amy Dean, president of Dean Public Relations. "Search engine optimization is that smoke signal. It's not the great equalizer--it's the great integrator." This can be a harsh reality for communicators, many of whom have long balked at terms like "metatags" and "HTML source codes," opting instead to leave such technicalities to the IT department. But evasion is no longer an option. There is good news, though: SEO is all about word choice, and hasn't that been PR's forte from the very beginning? What's In A Name? Before you can go forth and optimize, you have to know what optimization actually is. "Search engine optimization is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a press release or Web site via improved organic search results," says Paolina Milana, VP of marketing for Marketwire. "Good SEO helps interested consumers, industry analysts, investors and members of the media find your news, your company Web site, and your products more easily." This means that anything that can be searched can be optimized--blog posts, social network postings, press releases, content in online newsrooms, interview transcripts, annual reports and so on. SEO is driven by search algorithms, or unique rules that search engines follow when sorting through billions of Web pages in response to a search keyword. While every search engine has its own formula and weighting system for returning results, the following rules always apply (source: Search Engine Watch, March 2007, courtesy of Milana): Keyword location and frequency; Relevance of a page's meta-description tags (pieces of HTML code that concisely summarize a page's content and help determine what text you see in the results of search queries); Relevance of a page's meta-keyword tags (keywords you choose to identify a page's content--should be limited to 10-15 words); Relevance of a page's title tags (the text that appears in the clickable link on the search results page--should always contain your organization's name); Quantity and source of backward links (links to your Web site from another site) to a page; and, The actual text of the backward links. Playing By The Rules The aforementioned rules are the driving forces behind the results generated by search engines like Google and Yahoo; once you have a general understanding of their premise, it's just a matter of applying them when writing press releases, blog posts, corporate Web site content, etc. *Think Word Perfect. Studies have shown that the majority of searchers use two to three words in search engine queries, so the first rule of conduct is to identify a set of words that are most likely to be included in a related query. This should be done through an in-depth series of brainstorming sessions with multiple stakeholder groups to identify which words are a) most applicable to the page/press release's content; and b) are most likely to be searched. There are also a number of tools to help you whittle your list down to a handful of winning words (see sidebar). "Identify five to 10 keywords/phrases that describe your company's products or services. Using those same keywords, work with your internal Web team to optimize relevant product pages on your Web site," Milana says. "Include your company name and relevant keywords in the headline and first paragraph of every press release, as well as in the meta- keywords field." *Be Symbolic. Laura Sturaitis, SVP of media services and product strategy for Business Wire, says that, in addition to keywords, formatting also increases visibility in search engines. She recommends: Bolding and italicizing headlines, key words, etc.; Using symbols such as @, $, &, etc.; Imbedding hyperlinks; Using social networking tags such as Digg; and, Bulleting key points. *Get Linked In. Any executive who has been successful with SEO would agree that links are key to obtaining good results. When it comes to optimizing press releases, Sturaitis advises that communicators be strategic when choosing which Web page to link back to; often, the best choice isn't the most obvious--the home page. But, beyond imbedding links in press releases, Lee Odden, CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, recommends "promoting content on social networks, linking up with partners and cross- linking internally." He also offers these tips: Analyze the current link environment and develop your own link-building plan accordingly. Assess competitors' link activity to see if it presents any opportunities. *Socialize. Press releases are often the first things that come to mind when contemplating SEO, but Curtis Hougland, founder of Attention PR, says that the state of social media is causing that to shift. "Press releases are changing, so while they include tags, links, photos and summaries, ultimately you are just trying to create something that [users] can pull from more easily," he says. "The way you think about social PR is that engagement has a lot to do with taking audience key words, identifying the online communications in which those audiences aggregate, identifying the influencers within each of those communities, and then figuring out which asset you have that could open a sustained conversation with them. That asset can be as simple as a press release--then the press release becomes a viral tool." Thus, while he agrees that key words, metatags and links are all important for SEO success, Hougland maintains that the best approach is simply engagement with audiences. "The best SEO comes from engagement in social media, which adds to the volume and depth of conversations, as well as inbound blog links--which are key things Google is looking for," he says. "Authentic, frequent communication works better than anything else." PRN (Editor's Note: For more in-depth search engine optimization tactics and best practices, you can register for the April 24 PR News Webinar, "Search Engine Marketing and Optimization Strategies for Communicators" at CONTACTS: Lee Odden,; Laura Sturaitis,; Paolina Milana,; Amy Dean, Keyword Research And Linking Tools Research: Google AdWords Tool Microsoft Keyword Forecast Linking: MarketLeap Link Popularity Yahoo Site Explorer Google Webmaster Central Microsoft Webmaster Tools Source: Lee Odden, TopRank ?Online Marketing

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